By a Newsnet reporter
The UK coalition has been accused of showing a lack of respect towards the Scottish Parliament after it emerged an increasing number of cabinet ministers were refusing to appear in front of Holyrood Committees.
Last week UK Environment Secretary Owen Paterson became the latest minister to dodge scrutiny from MSPs after he cancelled his scheduled appearance at the Scottish Parliament.

The Conservative MP for North Shropshire was due to attend the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee session where it was expected that he would be asked to further explain the low levels of radioactivity detected at Dounreay, Caithness, in January 2012.

Mr Paterson joins a string of UK Ministers who have refused to give evidence to MSPs.

  • In December 2011, then Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman turned down an invitation to appear in front of the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee.
  • In January 2012, then Scottish Secretary Michael Moore refused to attend European and External Relations Committee. The Committee was offered David Mundell in his place who then postponed his appearance.
  • Repeated invitations from July 2012 onwards to Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith, Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Freud and Minister for Employment Esther McVey have all been turned down.
  • In May 2013, Owen Paterson was due to appear in front of the Committee, but cancelled despite his role in representing Scotland at CAP negotiations that were ongoing at the time.
  • Finance – Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander cancelled his appearance in front of the Finance Committee in May 2013 for the second time – leading to the entire meeting being cancelled.
  • In June 2013 Paterson eventually gave evidence – the only time an Environment Secretary has appeared before the Scottish Parliament despite their role representing Scotland – but in March 2014 a second scheduled appearance by Mr Paterson was cancelled.

In recent days after details of a radiation leak at Dounreay emerged, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson cancelled his appearance in front of a committee citing the need for him to attend a vote that didn’t in fact take place.

Meanwhile Employment Minister Esther McVey flatly refused to appear in front of Holyrood’s Welfare Reform Committee – just as Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Freud, the architects of Westminster’s welfare cuts have also repeatedly refused to appear in public.

In contrast, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Finance Secretary John Swinney, Transport Minister Keith Brown and Housing Minister Margaret Burgess have all appeared in front of Westminster committees in the last eighteen months.

  • On 11 December 2012 John Swinney gave evidence to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee
  • On 28 January 2013 the Deputy First Minister gave evidence to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee
  • On 2 July 2013 Keith Brown gave evidence to the House of Commons Defence Committee
  • On 10 March 2014 Margaret Burgess gave evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee

Commenting, SNP MSP Jamie Hepburn said:

“For too many Westminster Government ministers it has clearly become acceptable to postpone, cancel and refuse to attend appearances in front of Holyrood’s Committees.

“That is not on and simply highlights Westminster’s determination not to be accountable to people in Scotland. Whenever there are difficult questions to answer, it seems you can guarantee the relevant UK Minister will be running scared.

“Despite the huge impact that Westminster’s welfare cuts are having in Scotland, the relevant Ministers simply refuse invitation after invitation to give evidence and try to justify what they are doing to people in Scotland.”

Just days after becoming Prime Minister, David Cameron stated “I want a real agenda of respect between our parliaments. I want to see Scottish ministers able to appear in front of select committees in Westminster and I believe that, if the Scottish Parliament would wish it, I would appear every year at the Scottish Parliament to answer questions.”

Since making the statement in 2010, Mr Cameron has not returned to the Scottish Parliament and more and more of his ministers have dodged Holyrood’s Committees. 

Mr Hepburn added: “That is incredibly disrespectful, not just to the Scottish Parliament but more importantly to the tens of thousands of people in Scotland struggling to cope with Westminster’s welfare cuts.”


2014-03-16 07:40

Westminster’s disdain for the Scots Parliament commenced with the Blair administration who were forced to establish Holyrood under pressure from the Council of Europe.
His intention, never disguised, was to ensure that the Parliament was as emasculated as possible and unable to really function as any sort of a Legislature.
Nothing has much changed ever since the opening of the Parliament was boycotted by both Blair and Brown.
The distaste for democracy by the Westminster establishment runs deep as doe its image of superiority over all its colonies including its feelings for Scots and Scotland.
We have the chance to change all that September.
2014-03-16 21:47

While we are at it, when is the suppression of the real facts of how devolution came about going to end? It is now more than 30 years since the 47-member Council of Europe, the continent’s senior institution, issued its threat of diplomatic sanctions against any state that refused to adhere to the international norms of pluralist democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.

The Council specifically named the UK as a principal offender in respect of the government of Scotland and Wales by Secretary of State appointed without regard to election results. The Blair government had to cave in and introduce the devolution bills because of the economic and political disaster that would have ensued after the threatened expulsion of the UK from the Council of Europe. An assurance was given to Dennis Canavan at Westminster that the documents would be released as soon as available, but there is clearly no intention of ever doing so before the referendum.

2014-03-16 07:46

An old, old story since the time of Cumberland. What is phoney ‘respect’ worth?
This was exactly the same scenario said to have occurred at a similar ‘mutual respect’ dinner give by McLean for some English ‘notables’: MacLean was being patronised, preparing the way to get foreign hands oxter deep into his sporran.

He was seated ‘accidentally’ below the salt, to facilitate a great show to be made, with much false bowing and scraping, all designed to simultaneously dignify and humiliate him (and Scottish ways)
Aware of the low ploy and in reply to not being seated ‘at the head of the table’ Maclean announced that ‘Where Maclean sits IS the head of the table’.

And still in today it lingers.
2014-03-16 08:13

Westminster MP’s consider the Scottish Government to be nothing more than a local council, so that’s why they refuse to appear before any committee at Holyrood.
2014-03-16 11:13

Have you all heard this one.
Cameron would be willing to stand on a platform with Major,Blair and Brown pushing for a no vote,all Tories together.
2014-03-16 11:31

Owen Paterson cancelled his appearance in front of a committee citing the need for him to attend a vote that didn’t in fact take place.

Has Paterson never heard of ‘pairing’ at Westminster? Perhaps Anas Sarwar should have a word in his lug.
2014-03-16 11:52

Imagine a situation where we sent delegates to the parliament in Berlin (who collected all our income and returned some of it to us loosely based on what they spend on public services in Germany).
This situation wouldn’t be tolerated by Scottish voters for one second but because the parliament in England is geographically located in the British Isles,for some reason that situation is accepted.
The Anglo centric politicians and their supporters try to camouflage this flagrant anti democratic system of government by claiming (very quietly) that Scotland is not a country but part of the great Anglo nation whose capital and seat of government is in London.
The Edinburgh agreement has made it clear however that Scotland IS a country and all that needs to be decided is whether we remain reliant on London “largesse” or do the normal thing and mananage our own affairs.
Dependent or independent…that is the question.
2014-03-16 15:05

I think the point I was trying to make was that we should no more expect minsters of the Reichstag to be accountable to Holyrood than we do Westminster since neither were elected by the Scottish electorate.

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